*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said Tuesday he hopes Ted Cruz loses the state's caucuses, a remarkable departure from neutrality by the influential Republican in the race for the White House.
Speaking with reporters in the Hawkeye State, Branstad reportedly said Cruz, the U.S. senator from Texas, "hasn't supported renewable fuels, and I think it would be a big mistake for Iowa to support him." Branstad then replied "yes" when asked if he would like to see Cruz defeated in the Feb. 1 nominating contest, according to the Des Moines Register and other media outlets.
Branstad and his allies have increasingly targeted Cruz over his opposition to the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets the minimum amount of ethanol that must be blended into the U.S. gasoline supply. Cruz has insisted he wants to get rid of all energy mandates and subsidies, not just those that benefit the economy in corn-growing Iowa.
Cruz shrugged off Branstad’s diss Tuesday afternoon while campaigning in Center Barnstead, New Hampshire. He suggested Branstad is part of a “Washington cartel” that thrives off corporate welfare, the term he has long used to criticize measures like the Renewable Fuel Standard.
“It is no surprise that the establishment is in full panic mode,” Cruz told reporters. "As conservatives unite behind our campaign, you’re going to see the Washington cartel firing every shot they can, every cannon they can."
Cruz also took the opportunity to suggest another member of that cartel: Donald Trump, his closest competition in the Hawkeye State. The billionaire has been attacking Cruz as difficult to get along with in the Senate.
"If you're looking for someone who is a dealmaker, who will capitulate even more to the Democrats," Cruz said, "then perhaps Donald Trump is your man."
Trump had seized on the comments earlier Tuesday bashing Cruz from Iowa's "highly respected" governor. "Big shoker [sic]! People do not like Ted," Trump wrote on Twitter before commending Branstad for his anti-Cruz declaration while speaking at a renewable fuels summit in Altoona.
Responding to Trump a short time later, Cruz signaled he was not worried about the sharp criticism from Branstad, a more moderate Republican who has said he will not endorse any GOP candidate.
Trump "continues to seek Establishment support," Cruz tweeted. "Cartel wants more deals & cronyism; fears conservatives."
Cruz's allies in Iowa were quick to echo that view Tuesday afternoon. U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa, who has endorsed Cruz, called Branstad's diss a "de facto endorsement of Trump," according to Radio Iowa.
"Terry Branstad finally does conservatives a favor by telling us all who the establishment really hates -- Ted Cruz," Steve Deace, an influential radio host backing Cruz, wrote on Twitter. "It's good news Tuesday!"
Branstad's rebuke of Cruz is not entirely surprising. Branstad's son Eric leads a group called America's Renewable Future that is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars against Cruz in Iowa, accusing him of siding with oil companies in his home state of Texas over farmers in the Hawkeye State.
Asked earlier this month if his dad would be speaking out more against Cruz as the caucus approach, Eric Branstad said he could not speak to his father's plans, but he remains passionate about the issue.
"Dad loves Iowa, and he knows how important this industry is to Iowa," Eric Branstad said. "He knows that the price of corn today is well below value, and so it is detrimental to Iowa to not support the RFS and the industry, and I know he's certainly very vocal."
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.